Staying Safe in Times of Cyber Uncertainty

What is Remote Work Security?

Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic normalized remote work. While some organizations allowed telecommuting in the past, most companies were forced to support a remote workforce for months or years during the height of the pandemic.

Due to this forced experiment with remote work, many organizations found that it was not only possible but preferable to have at least some of their employees working from home at least part of the time. As a result, many companies plan to allow remote work indefinitely.

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What is Remote Work Security?

Remote Work Security Definition

Remote work provides significant benefits to an organization and its employees. However, it can also create security risks for a company. Remote workers operate in a very different environment than on-site employees, and this creates unique risks and security challenges. Remote work security acknowledges these risks and the fact that companies need to adapt to effectively secure their remote workforce. This includes designing security policies and deploying security solutions to address these unique risks of remote work.

Main Risks When Working Remotely

Remote workers face many of the same security risks as on-site employees. However, their unique situation exacerbates some security risks and creates new ones. Some of the primary security risks of remote work include:

  • Phishing Attacks: Remote workers are more vulnerable to phishing attacks due to their use of personal devices for work, their location outside of corporate perimeter-based security solutions, and blurred lines between business and personal use. Cybercriminals take advantage of this increased vulnerability, and phishing attacks surged during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Malware Infections: Remote workers are increasingly using personal devices for work, meaning that devices with access to corporate data and resources may also have unapproved apps installed and be used for personal browsing. Since these devices may also lack corporate endpoint security solutions, this creates a perfect environment for malware to infect devices as a foothold for attacking corporate resources.
  • Account Takeover: With the rise of remote work came a surge in the use of virtual private networks (VPNs), the remote desktop protocol (RDP), and similar remote access solutions. This makes employee credentials even more valuable to cybercriminals because they permit an attacker to remotely access corporate systems to steal data, plant ransomware, or perform other malicious actions.
  • Mobile Malware: With remote work, many organizations have implemented bring your own device (BYOD) programs that allow employees to work from their preferred, personal devices. As a result, mobile devices are more common in the workplace, and cybercriminals are directly targeting these devices in their attacks via malicious mobile apps, SMS phishing (SMiShing) campaigns, and other attacks specifically geared towards mobile devices.
  • Regulatory Non-Compliance: With remote work, employees are accessing corporate and customer information from home, often using personal devices. This can create significant regulatory compliance challenges for an organization if it is not able to effectively protect sensitive customer data entrusted to it and enforce corporate security policies.

Remote Work Security Policy

Corporate security policies were largely designed to manage the risks of an on-site workforce. With remote work, companies may need to create additional security policies and make modifications to existing ones. Some examples of important remote work security policies include:

  • Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): As they transitioned to remote work, many organizations rolled out BYOD programs, which enabled employees to work remotely from personal devices. With these BYOD programs comes the need to define BYOD policies outlining the requirements that these personal devices must meet to be permitted access to corporate data and resources.
  • Endpoint Security: With remote work, employees are working from devices that lie outside of the corporate network and its perimeter-based defenses. As a result, the endpoint is the new first line of defense against cyber threats. Corporate security policies should include security requirements for devices used for work, such as installation of corporate security solutions and prompt installation of updates.
  • Acceptable Use: With remote work, the line between business and personal use is blurred as employees may perform business tasks on personal devices and vice versa. An acceptable use policy defines which activities are permitted on corporate devices and is essential to minimizing the risk of an infected corporate device.
  • Data Security: Remote work makes it necessary for employees to access sensitive data from home and to communicate via corporate collaboration apps. A data security policy should outline rules for accessing and managing sensitive corporate data, such as disallowing the use of personal cloud storage for company data.
  • Incident Response: Incident response policies are commonly designed based on the assumption that infected devices and security personnel are all located on-site. With remote work, incident response strategies should be adapted to address the risk of off-site security incidents.

Remote Work Security Best Practices

Effective remote work security involves identifying and addressing the unique security risks and challenges faced by remote workers. Remote workers require secure remote access to corporate resources, secure Internet access, data security strategies, and endpoint security solutions.

#1. Secure Remote Access

Employees working from off-site need secure connectivity to enterprise networks and resources. Some vital components of secure remote access include:

  • Encrypted Connection: Remote workers are connecting to corporate networks and resources via untrusted and insecure networks. An encrypted connection, such as that provided by a virtual private network (VPN), is essential to protecting sensitive data against eavesdroppers.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Remote work increases the probability that users’ passwords or devices will be compromised, potentially granting unauthorized access to their accounts. MFA makes it more difficult for an attacker to successfully authenticate as a user by requiring multiple factors, such as the combination of a password and a trusted device.
  • Device Security Posture Assessment: With BYOD and dual-use devices, employees may install malicious apps or be infected by malware when using a device for personal reasons. Before allowing devices to connect to enterprise resources and networks, they should be assessed to determine if they meet corporate security policy requirements and are potentially compromised.
  • Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA): Cyber threat actors commonly take advantage of remote work by compromising users’ accounts and using their VPN connections to access and explore corporate resources. ZTNA provides access on a case-by-case basis determined by role-based access controls, making this lateral movement more difficult to perform and limiting the impact of a compromised account.

#2. Internet Access Security

When working from home, employees are exposed to all of the risks and threats posed by the public Internet. Mitigating Internet-borne threats requires the following capabilities:

  • URL Filtering: Remote work increases the probability that employees will visit malicious or inappropriate sites on devices used for work purposes. URL filtering enables an organization to enforce corporate security policies by limiting the sites that employees can visit on corporate devices. 
  • URL Reputation: Malicious links are a common tool in phishing campaigns as cybercriminals attempt to direct employees to websites that serve malware or steal credentials. URL reputation checking can help to identify these malicious domains and prevent employees from inadvertently visiting them and placing themselves and the company at risk.
  • Content Disarm and Reconstruction (CDR): Cybercriminals commonly embed malicious content in seemingly benign files as part of phishing campaigns. CDR deconstructs a file, strips out malicious content, and rebuilds it before sending the sanitized file to the intended recipient. This process manages corporate risk while minimizing the impact on end users.
  • Anti-Phishing: Phishing attacks increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic as cybercriminals took advantage of employees working from home. Anti-phishing protection is essential to managing the risk that a successful phishing campaign will lead to an infected endpoint or compromised employee account.
  • Credential Protection: With remote work, employee login credentials are an even greater target of criminals because they allow access to the corporate network via VPNs or RDP or to corporate SaaS solutions. Credential protection solutions attempt to identify and block the use of compromised credentials, protecting the company and its employees.

#3. Data Protection

Remote workers need access to sensitive data, but this also creates the risk of data breach. To protect its corporate and customer data, companies require the following data security tools:

  • Disk Encryption: Remote work dramatically increases the probability that devices containing sensitive corporate or customer data will be lost or stolen. All endpoints should be protected with full disk encryption to prevent sensitive data from being read from the memory of a misplaced device.
  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP): With remote work, use of email and corporate collaboration apps has skyrocketed, which has increased the probability that sensitive data will be exposed on them. All emails and messages on collaboration apps should be scanned for sensitive data to ensure that it is not leaked to an unauthorized party.
  • File Classification: Properly protecting sensitive data requires the ability to identify and appropriately mark sensitive data within files; however, this is infeasible to do manually at scale. Effective data protection requires automated scanning of files for sensitive content to ensure that this data can be appropriately marked and secured.

#4. Endpoint Protection

Working remotely puts employees’ devices at risk of malware infection. Endpoint security solutions deployed on these devices should have certain capabilities, such as:

  • Ransomware Protection: Ransomware has emerged as a leading threat to corporate cybersecurity. Cybercriminals have taken advantage of the surge in remote work to deploy their malware via phishing campaigns or the use of compromised credentials to authenticate via VPN or RDP. Ransomware prevention solutions are essential to protect corporate endpoints and backend infrastructure against ransomware attacks.
  • Quarantine Infected Endpoints: Often, a transition to remote work leads to a company having less control over its endpoints since many are operating outside of the corporate network. As a result, malware infections can spread further before they are detected and contained. Endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions deployed on these devices should include the ability to quarantine infected endpoints before they pose a risk to other corporate systems.
  • Ransomware Recovery: Ransomware attacks are designed to encrypt files, making them unusable with the decryption key. Often, these attacks are detected and halted after encryption has begun, meaning that some files have already been rendered unreadable. An endpoint protection solution should include the ability to recover files encrypted by a ransomware attack.
  • Mobile Threat Defense (MTD): The shift to remote work has driven the increased adoption of mobile devices as companies roll out BYOD policies to allow employees to work from personal and dual-use devices. As a result, cybercriminals have increasingly focused their efforts on mobile devices, leading to 97% of companies facing mobile threats in 2020. Managing this expansion of the corporate attack surface requires the deployment of mobile security solutions to devices with access to corporate resources.

Harmony Solution for Remote Work

A remote work program has major benefits for a business and leads to increased employee satisfaction and retention. However, remote work also creates security threats that must be addressed as part of a corporate security policy. Check Point Harmony provides a complete suite of solutions designed to address the unique security challenges of remote work. 

You’re also welcome to learn more about the impacts of the rise of remote work in Check Point’s 2022 Workforce Security Report.

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